A bill being considered by the state Legislature could slow the growth of high-speed internet to rural parts of Georgia, according to consumers and community advocates.
House Bill 282, named the Municipal Broadband Investment Act, would prohibit some rural communities from investing in building or expanding municipally-owned broadband internet systems. Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming, sponsored the bill that he said will prevent taxpayer funds from being used to compete with private business.
According to Hamilton, 18 communities in the state have built their own broadband services. Hamilton acknowledged that some were built when private providers didn't enter the market. Hamilton said his legislation wouldn't prevent municipal investment in areas not served by broadband service. If passed, HB 282 would prevent local authorities from creating or upgrading service if customers have internet speeds equal to or greater than 1.5 megabits per second which is lower than the minimum basic standard set by the Federal Communications Commission.
"What we want is competition to come in. We want private businesses to come in. That's what drives the market," said Hamilton.
But representatives from some municipalities are fighting the bill, claiming it will limit the ability of rural cities to compete in a global economy.
Amy Henderson, of the Georgia Municipal Association, said these municipally-owned systems help drive communities' economic development efforts when private internet providers don't want to enter the community or upgrade existing infrastructure.
"A lot of these city systems provide internet access to schools. They provide internet access to hospitals, to the large industrial base that employs so many people. It's just a part of the infrastructure. It's like having street, water and sewer systems," said Henderson.
The Georgia House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on HB 282 Wednesday at 2 p.m.
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